I have many good memories of my travels to Ghana a few years ago.
Of course, I saw the famous triumphal arch in Accra adorned with the iconic black star.
I got to pause for thought at a former ‘slave castle’ on the Ghanaian coast, scene of some of the worst atrocities known to humankind.
I also was lucky enough to teach classes at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, and interact with Ghanaian citizens as a colleague, not only as a tourist. I can report that what they say is true: in Ghana, it feels good to be from Africa. It even feels good to be an African citizen of European descent, whatever that may imply.
I was saddened to read last week that Air Namibia has indefinitely suspended its flights from Accra to Windhoek via Lagos. According to an Air Namibia press release, this happened after a diplomatic spat involving immigration officials allegedly acting aggressively to Nigerian visitors, apparently leading the Nigerian embassy in Namibia to suspend issuing of visas to Namibians.I don’t know if these allegations are true.
What I do know is that I myself have been on the receiving end of Namibian immigration officials’ sharp tongues, and if they would act that was towards a Namibian like me, then who can say they would be any nicer to a dark-skinned businesswoman or dreadlocked writer, with a thick Nigerian accent, looking for an extended-stay visa?
My guess is one immigration official was, perhaps without realising it, rude to a Nigerian with clout, but the details don’t really matter. If this was a matter with Germany, I have no doubt our best diplomats would have been sent in to ‘bang heads together’ and find a solution to the problem.
There lies is my big concern. It goes far beyond an airline route that may or may not have been profitable anyway, and transcends my own ability or not to hang out at the beach on Victoria Island in Lagos during my December holiday.
We Namibians often feel the closest ties with our neighbour and former ruler, South Africa, or with erstwhile European colonial powers like Germany. The ‘rest’ of Africa is mysterious and untamed and best, a source of financial corruption and witchcraft at worst.
It’s maybe not our fault, especially for those who were exposed to apartheid media and education systems, but many Namibians’ views of Nigerians do not seem to go beyond Nollywood movie stereotypes. We probably know next to nothing about Senegal beyond the music of Youssou N’dour, Babba Maal or Ismael Lo.
I think we’d do well to redefine ourselves mentally as Continental Africans, for lack of a better phrase, more linked to the whole continent to the North, and less celebratory of our colonial European and white South African influences.
Maybe, since we face the Atlantic seaboard, we might want to consider ourselves as West Africans as much as Southern Africans.
Maybe there are lessons we as a nation can learn from Nigeria’s entrepreneurial culture or film industry, or the Senegalese music superstars. Maybe Nigeria’s embrace of Pidgin offers a model for Namibia and South Africa to redefine Afrikaans as what it originally was, an African-European-Asian creole language.
Or maybe not. I don’t know. But we won’t find out if we don’t have the connections and the imaginative ability to ask these questions.
Closer links between continental blocks like SADC and ECOWAS may be a starting point, but these don’t have to involve expensive official visits by leaders – you’d be surprised what can be done over the Internet, by us ordinary citizens these days. A forum of bloggers may accomplish as much as a whole AU summit meeting.
Something like 30-day visa-free visits for all African passport holders would be great. I trust our police and intelligence services – at least as much as some overworked clerk at Home Affairs – would be able to keep tabs on the few criminal or terrorist elements who may seek to exploit such a system. Those of us who are well-off should certainly consider visiting Lagos, Cairo, Nairobi, or Accra, before Paris or Madrid.
And all of us should keep an open mind.
Hugh Ellis still hopes to take in the sights and sounds of Lagos one day, and works as a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The views expressed here are personal views. Follow him on Twitter: @ellis_hugh